The White House on Thursday mocked Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., as an "international man of mystery" and said he needlessly traveled to Austria to learn things about the Iran nuclear agreement he could have learned from the Obama administration.
Cotton said he learned about the "side deal" between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency after visiting the agency in Austria. That agreement is now a major point of contention between members of Congress who are demanding to see it, and the White House, which says it doesn't have the agreement and can only brief members on it.
But White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Thursday that Cotton basically wasted his time.
"The documents that Sen. Cotton claims to have learned of … were documents that were previously discussed in material that we put forward some time earlier," Earnest said. "Sen. Cotton didn't really learn of anything in Vienna that wasn't already available to be learned" about on the IAEA website.
"I hope that Sen. Cotton had a pleasant trip to Vienna but his travel was not necessary to learn the information he claims to have obtained," said Earnest, who later referred to the White House's latest Iran deal antagonist as "Tom Cotton, the Republican international man of mystery."
The two documents spelling out the verification process are confidential but Secretary of State John Kerry assured lawmakers that they would be briefed about the agreement's contents in classified settings.
The documents are the most recent point of contention between the administration and Republicans, and some Democrats, who oppose finalizing the plan to lift sanctions on Tehran in exchange for keeping its nuclear program strictly peaceful.
Earnest also said that the IAEA is the appropriate body to make sure that Iran is living up to its promises not to develop nuclear weapons and took a swipe at Republicans in general in the process.
Are "a bunch of Republicans, who claim that they aren't climate scientists and, therefore, can't evaluate humankind's impact on climate change, all of a sudden anointing themselves as nuclear physicists and nuclear experts?" Earnest asked rhetorically. "That they're the only ones who are in a position to evaluate whether or not this will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon?
"If that's the case, I wouldn't have a whole lot of confidence in that. I would have a whole lot of confidence in the ability of the IAEA, an international, impartial organization, filled with nuclear scientists, who recently won the Nobel Peace Prize. I think I would have some confidence in their ability to evaluate Iran's nuclear program."